Bloomington will have two new playgrounds next fall: one benefitting children with special needs, the other serving Bloomington’s west side.
Rollingbrook Park at 1002 Hershey Road will be the site of Harmony Park, an inclusive playground built to accommodate children with and without physical and mental disabilities.
The playground at O’Neil Park at 1515 W. Chestnut St. will also get an upgrade, with all new equipment and surfacing. The park lies within a few hundred feet of Sheridan Elementary School.
The existing equipment at both parks are over 20 years old, exceeding the typical life of a safe playground, according to a staff report.
Aldermen on Tuesday night unanimously signed off on the city’s financial commitment to the projects, which comes out to at least $330,000. That’s significantly lower than the total cost to build the playgrounds thanks to a mix of grants, private donations and public partnerships.
District 87 contributed $70,000 toward the cost to buy and install equipment at O’Neil Park. A grant from commercial playground equipment manufacturer Game Time covered the remaining $52,000.
The grant also took care of over $100,000 of the cost to build Harmony Park. A partnership between several local nonprofits raised another $175,000 for the project. Those organizations include the Bloomington-Normal Jaycees, Marcfirst, Autism McLean and the Max’s Miles Foundation.
Corin Chapman and husband Todd founded Max’s Miles to build modified go-karts for children with physical and mental disabilities who need a little extra help navigating the world—children like their 5-year-old son, Max.
Chapman said Max has a genetic disorder that severely limits his mobility, hearing and vision. Because Max uses a mobility device, Chapman said it’s tough for him to navigate traditional playgrounds.
“Anytime you have a playground that has bark or even curbing, that is extremely limiting for a lot of children in our community,” she said. “And it’s not just Max—it’s about 3,000 children within our community that don’t have a place to play safely and independently.”
Not only will Harmony Park be the county’s first inclusive park, but Chapman said among other Illinois communities with over 50,000 residents, Bloomington and Normal are the only two without such an amenity.
The project has about 6 months left to raise another $30,000 to pay for fencing at the playground.
City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Jay Tetzloff said if the fundraising goal isn’t met, the city will cover the full cost of the fencing, as it’s necessary to keep the park safe.
Tetzloff said the city will start construction on Harmony Park as soon as the weather allows, likely in March or April, and will continue through July or August. Construction on O’Neil Park will begin as soon as the Harmony Park project is finished, with the goal to wrap up in September, he said.
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